Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What is QiGong?

What's Qigong?
Qigong(Chi Kung) is thousands of years old, and is sometimes referred to as "Chinese Yoga". It is the predecessor of Tai Chi. Both systems are exercises, but they are also internal arts as they move or exercise the "CHI" or internal energy. If our energy systems are in good working order, we have the capability to keep our body in a healthy state, which includes appropriate weight. So why do we have to work at, or cultivate our chi? Why doesn't our body balance itself automatically? We have a common enemy against this natural process, and that is stress.

From the moment of conception; our mother's and father's chi or life force combine to form "life". At that moment, if there are no genetic problems our energy is balanced. We are, even in the womb subject to stress, mostly of a physical nature. Is our mother eating properly, is she resting, is she in a safe warm environment, is she using drugs which may affect us, drinking alcohol, smoking, or is emotionally stressed? All of these environmental factors play a role in our prenatal development. So even before we are born, stress can negatively influence our health.

What kinds of stresses are there? Mental: Loss of loved ones, illness in family, abuse, financial worries, children's welfare, relationships difficulties, work pressure, time pressure. Physical environment (hot/cold), shelter, air and water quality (pollution), food starvation or abundance or poor food choices, food additives, pesticides, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, injuries, exposure to contagious disease.
All of these stresses challenge our body's ability to keep the balance of health. Are you wondering how Qigong can affect this? The flow of chi or internal energy is natural, but these stresses can cause it to become blocked, so how we can help it flow through our systems to keep us in balance is to practice these slow moving, breathing, loosening exercises to help restore the flow.
The energy pathways are not physical like blood vessels or nerves but are the areas where the energy flows, similar to the magnetic forces around the earth: they are unseen, but present. If we internally and externally relax, we can help the flow improve. By aligning the body, breathing slower and deeper, and focusing and emptying the mind (meditation) we can positively influence the flow of this energy and therefore improve our health. We can further stimulate the flow by moving our weight from one foot to the other in a slow relaxed manner; this stimulates the lower endpoints of the energy pathways and helps to improve the circular flow. (It is also where we train the body for the balance). The mind focusing on the finger tips helps the energy flowing to the upper endpoints also, and thus completing the circuit. It's just like using Draino on a clogged drain; as we loosen the physical body and breath and the mind relaxes the "chi" is able to flow properly and efficiently through the pathways.

Our bodies are not just mechanical devices. The mind is highly connected to all our body's functions. When we sense danger, we produce hormones (cortisols) that affect our heart rate, blood pressure, respiration etc. These hormones are useful in the short term, they give a boost to our breathing, allow faster circulation to our muscles to provide more oxygen and then we can escape from danger! They even tell our bodies to store fat for the emergency! But if stress triggers these emergency hormones to be released full time, it causes negative side effects. So de-stressing is very important to maintain our systems' balance.

Studies have shown that even the immune cells related to varicella zoster (first experienced as chicken pox and sometimes later on as shingles) can be influenced by energy work, and to the extent that in one study a rise of 50% in those cells was seen in the tai chi group compared with the control group. More research may soon show that these practices will be seen to provide support to the immune system in general, helping us to stay healthier.
So source a Qigong or Tai Chi class in your area today, you'll get a lot more than just a workout

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tai Chi Moves to Practice at Home

These exercises are for my students to remind them for home practice.
1. Commencement of Tai Chi - both hands float up on an imaginary balloon and then slowly lower down. Breath is slowly in and breathe out when hands reach the top. Then breathe slowly in and out again as the hands lower. Keep shoulders relaxed and neutral.

2a. Polishing the Emperor's Mirror: Arms facing outward, lift the hands up overhead then turn the palms towards you, cross at the wrists as you lower them down to start position. Breathe in on the way up and slowly out on the way down.

2b. Polishing the Emperor's Mirror: Both hands dig under the feet and pull up from the ground through the body to the top of the head. As if a fountain let the arms circle out away from the body back down to the start position.

3. Waving Hands like clouds: Shifting left and right arms circle waving out and touch the table or or lazy swimmer.

4. Big Wave: bring hand across the body and turn the palm to wave the arm up overhead, reach behind your back with the little finger leading down to the earth, shifting side to side if desired. Repeat on both sides.

5. Slanting Flying: Hold a ball on the left side of the body, left hand on top right hand on bottom. Slowly shift to the right and raise the right hand as if serving out a cup of tea. At the same time the left hand presses down near the left hip. Repeat on the other side. ( Right hand on top of ball, left hand on bottom shift to left raising up the left palm and lowering the right hand pressing down near the hip. )

Enjoy your practice!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lose the Shoes!

Interesting article about feet and barefoot training:

by Helen Vanderburg published by The Calgary Herald 2008

There is a growing movement amongst some runners to abandon shoes and go barefoot.

These runners point to famed two-time Olympic marathon champion Abebe Bikila who ran barefoot as well as famed-Olympian South African Zola Budd.

What Is It?

Barefoot training is gaining popularity with coaches, personal trainers and runners. The idea behind barefoot training is that our technically designed shoes may actually give us too much support, cushioning and stability, making the muscles and neuromuscular pathways of the foot and ankle weak and "lazy."

By training barefoot, some believe we can re-activate the small muscles in our feet, make them stronger and therefore improve our balance and sports performance. Yoga, tai chi, running and dance can all be done barefoot.

Barefoot training is controversial and, at this point, it lacks substantial research to support it for everyone. We are all built differently and some people need more support than others.

Like any training program, start slowly. If you haven't run barefoot since you were a kid, you will likely experience some initial soreness.

To prevent injuries, you may want to start with an indoor activity first.

Start with five to 10 minutes once a week of barefoot training on a soft surface such as a rubberized mat. Gradually increase the time or number of times per week spent training in bare feet.

Try a non-impact or low impact activity like yoga, Pilates and tai chi in bare feet before walking or running. Or try a soft shoe such as the Nike Free, which simulates the feeling of being barefoot more than most shoes.

When it comes to outdoor activities, it's important to start on flat, preferably cushioned, surfaces like grass and ensure you have good lighting to prevent stepping on something you shouldn't. Wait until any initial soreness in your feet goes away before re-attempting another barefoot run or outdoor activity.

Who Would Like It?

If you've always enjoyed being barefoot, it might not be hard to convince you to try some activities without your shoes. Go slow and use common sense.

Who Wouldn't Like It?

Going barefoot is not for everybody. And being barefoot outdoors can be hazardous. Nothing takes the joy of exercise away faster than pain or injury.

If you have had any foot or ankle problems in the past, or if you have diabetes, balance problems or a vascular condition, consult your physician or health-care professional first.

The Sweat Factor

Taking off your shoes and performing the same exercises you used to do with your shoes on is an entirely new experience. For example, try standing on one leg with your running shoes on. Then try it in bare feet. Try to do alternating front lunges with and without your shoes on.

If you're like me, you'll see just how hard the foot, ankle, knee and hip have to work to make this movement happen without shoes and just how much stability your shoes give you. Don't worry; the great news is that you're actually strengthening your entire body.

The Klutz Factor

After years and years of wearing shoes, most people become dependent on the stability that shoes offer. In fact, most people feel naked going outside without shoes. If you have balance problems or are apprehensive about exercising shoeless, don't do it. Just because someone else does doesn't mean you should.

The Cost

Going barefoot is free. Training appropriately for barefoot walking and running requires coaching. The cost of coaching varies, depending on how serious you are about the training. If you are are looking for general fitness and healthy feet, you don't need to invest any money. But if you want to run a 10K barefoot, I highly recommend a professional training program. Don't just take off your shoes and start running. Ouch!

Where to Get It?

Train barefoot at home, in a park or at a yoga studio. Be aware that most fitness facilities will not allow bare feet in the gym because of the health and safety hazards associated with gym equipment.

If you train outdoors, it is recommended you wear lightweight shoes to prevent injury.

Calgary has many personal trainers who incorporate barefoot training for athletes; check out chirunning.com.

Bottom Line

Being barefoot is not new. That being said, if you decide to go barefoot, use good common sense, go slow and consult your health-care professional if you have questions.

Helen Vanderburg is a renowned trainer, corporate wellness speaker and owner of Heavens Fitness.